Survey: Many Texans ill-prepared to deal with brutal winter storm

Battery-operated clock and candle in Irving, Texas, after power has gone out during major winter storm in February 2021

Across Texas, that rude awakening is setting in. Residents and businesses — and especially the power grid — were totally unprepared for a prolonged winter wrath of frigid temperatures, snow, and ice. 

But just how unprepared were Texans before the recent major winter storm burst pipes, left store shelves empty, and had residents lining up to get water from park spigots?

LawnStarter set out to find out. Our home is in Austin, so team members all across the state were impacted by the Texas Deep Freeze. We surveyed more than 200 Texans over Feb. 24-25, 2021, to find out how people coped and what they didn’t know before the Lone Star State was in the news around the world.

Key Findings

Among the survey’s highlights:

ERCOT was virtually unknown before last week. Few knew that ERCOT (Electric Reliability Council of Texas) is the real power keeping the lights on. In the wake of the near-collapse of the state’s power grid, it is not a good sign that even ERCOT’s website isn’t secure.

Texans don’t know how to drive on snow and ice. Everything is bigger in Texas, and that includes the percentage of drivers who don’t know how to get around in a major winter storm. What should you do when you are skidding on ice? No. 4 is the correct answer.

When we asked “Have you ever driven on snow before?” just more than half of Texas natives had done so.

  • Yes — 51.20%
  • No — 33.49%
  • Yes, but before I moved to Texas — 15.31%

While 80% of Texans have disaster essentials (flashlights, batteries, etc.), many lack some basic tools to deal with a once-in-a-blue-moon snow or ice storm:

Do you own a snow shovel?

  • No — 78.47%
  • Yes — 21.53%

Do you own a ski/snow jacket or winter parka?

  • No — 56.46%
  • Yes — 43.54%

Do you have an ice scraper?

  • No — 49.76%
  • Yes — 42.58%
  • I use a credit card as a scraper in a pinch — 7.66%

Do you own a generator?

  • No — 78.95%
  • Yes — 21.05%

Some good news amid the freezing cold

There were some bright spots, though, to warm hearts if not homes.

When the lights went out in Texas — for several days for some people — family and friends put up those in need to keep loved ones and pets from freezing.

Before the winter storm, many Texans didn’t know their electric rate per kilowatt hour or how their power company calculates their power bills.

For some, that knowledge comes at a huge price. One Houston woman is suing Griddy Energy after being billed $9,546 for power from Feb. 1-19. A 63-year-old Dallas-area veteran was hit with an electricity bill for $16,752. “My savings is gone,” he told The New York Times.

Across Texas, hundreds of thousands still do not have safe water more than a week after the winter storm froze or burst pipes in homes, apartments, schools, and offices.

In fact, 2.87% of those Texans we surveyed said they are still waiting for their water service to be restored, and 31.1% reported that their pipes burst in the severe cold.

Texas Winter Storm by the Numbers

Last week’s winter storm crippled the Texas power grid and tested the survival skills of families across the state. How severe were the bitter cold, power and water outages, and storm damage across the state?

Here’s a by-the-numbers tally for the Texas winter storm:

18 billion: Estimated cost of insured damage from freeze, according to a preliminary estimate from the risk-modeling firm Karen Clark & Co.

14.9 million: Number who faced water disruptions on Feb. 19. That number had dropped to 1.4 million on Feb. 24. 

4.5 million: Peak number of Texas homes and businesses without power on Feb. 16.

300-400: Number of people who spent the night at Mattress Mack’s in Houston on Feb. 16.

30: Number of storm-related deaths in Texas. (This number is expected to increase. Experts say it will be weeks before all of these deaths are tallied.)

June 15: Deadline extended for filing taxes in Texas for individuals and businesses affected by the winter storm. 

11.2 inches: Snowiest day on record in Del Rio, Texas, on the border with Mexico. 

6: Number of homeless who died in Texas. (This number likely will increase.)

Even nature took a beating in the extreme cold. Bats and birds perished, people rushed to save sea turtles, and scores of shelter cats and dogs were flown to Northern states.

How to help Texans still struggling in the wake of the brutal winter storm: Donate and volunteer, and check in on family, friends and neighbors you haven’t heard from across the Lone Star State. 

Methodology

LawnStarter collected survey responses from a random sample of 210 adults aged 18 or older via Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) Feb. 24-25, 2021. All respondents answered that they resided in the state of Texas. Each response was anonymized using a unique user ID assigned by MTurk.

Of those we surveyed, 51.67% were female, 47.37% were male, and 0.48% identified as either non-binary/other or preferred not to say.

Main Photo Credit: Steve Rainwater / CC BY-SA 2.0 / via Wikimedia Commons / Photographer’s note: Harsh winter in Irving, Texas. It’s been 12 hours with no power, 55F in the house so far. Next time you see me, I expect to look like Han Solo frozen in carbonite.

Jeff Herman

Jeff Herman

Jeff Herman, managing editor of LawnStarter, mowed lawns as a teen, and his uncle owned the biggest sod business in St. Louis. Previously, Herman worked at The New York Times, CreditCards.com, and most recently at AllAboutVision.com. Now Herman is All About Lawn Care.